Stop worrying about Iraq. Start worrying about Iran.
Read the brave words of Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), who deserves the Medal of Freedom for standing up for Iraqis and Americans amid the confused sniping of his own party. In the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, after his fourth trip to Iraq in recent months, he patiently explained that 82% of Iraqis believe next year will be better than this one, that most of Iraq is secure and prospering, and that Iraqis and Americans are progressively "clearing and holding" remaining problematic areas.
There are two related scenarios in which the terrorists reverse the trend and start gaining ground: America cuts and runs; Iran spreads a nuclear umbrella over regional terror.
After flirting with cutting and running, US support for such a position has bottomed out. It has become clear that even Bush's opponents don't want to be blamed for losing Iraq (while claiming that Iraq is already lost). The White House and the Democrats seem to be converging on a gradual reduction in US troop presence starting next year.
As a Senate amendment that passed 79 to 19 succinctly put it:
"Calendar year 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces... [US] forces should not stay in Iraq any longer than required, and the people of Iraq should be so advised."
If the trend were not positive in Iraq, this sort of statement could be construed as a polite way to justify retreat. But all along the plan has been for Iraqis to secure their own country as quickly as possible, and the sense now is that a gradual US draw-down could hasten, not threaten, that process.
THE REAL plague of defeatism is the silent one coalescing around Iran. The US abdication of Iran policy over the past few years to Europe was bad enough, but in recent weeks the US dealt itself a serious setback.
Just as everything seemed in place for the IAEA to send Iran to the principal's office (the UN Security Council), the US and the E-3 - the UK, France and Germany - backed a Russian scheme to allow Iran to produce unlimited amounts of UF-6 gas, a precursor to enriching uranium for either bombs or power. This is a step backward from the tattered E-3-brokered deal with Iran whereby the former would continue to dither in exchange for Iran stopping all "enrichment-related" activities, including UF-6 production.
The E-3's deal was an insufficient stopgap to begin with. Until now, it has been possible to pretend that it was worth letting Europe take its sweet time, because the end point would be to jointly lower the sanctions boom on Teheran.
Now, even the US has signed on to permitting Iran to gain control of another step in the fuel cycle, and to trusting Russia, of all countries, to make sure it's ok. This capitulation adds to the growing sense that London, Paris, Berlin and even Washington are quietly accepting the "unacceptable" and learning to live with the idea of an Iranian Bomb.
THE ROOT of this evil, I hate to admit it, seems to be the US obsession with Iraq. I have always dismissed those who were against deposing Saddam precisely because it would distract America from the bigger threat from Iran. I always saw, and still see, this war as a multi-front conflict in which all terrorist-supporting, nuke-developing tyrants should be ousted or driven out of the terror business. The sequence was secondary.
But the Bush administration is proving correct those who said, essentially, that the US is incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. The White House and Condoleezza Rice are currently siding with those who want to keep Iran on a back burner, and are willing to pay an increasingly high price to do so.
Easy for me to say, say my friends in Washington, who think anyone advocating "opening another front" - when Bush can barely stay the course in Iraq - must be smoking something. But the question is which is more unacceptable: doing two things at once, or letting Iran get the Bomb?
Bush rightly recognizes that the first way to lose Iraq is to cut and run, and he is therefore sensibly focused on stabilizing domestic support during this tricky period of impatience. Yet how can Iraq, not to mention the wider war of which that struggle is a part, succeed if in the meantime Iran provides the entire terror network with nuclear immunity?
We must keep our eye on the ball. The ball is the number of states that support terrorism. Since 9/11, that number has been reduced by three: Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Only Iran has the power, if it can keep the world at bay with nukes, to stop and perhaps begin to reverse this string of American victories.
The good news is that Iran is easily stopped if the US and E-3 put their mind to it. Targeted and draconian sanctions imposed by just these four countries, either through or outside the Security Council, can force the mullahs to choose between their power and their nukes.
Iran is vulnerable to a cutoff of refined fuel (which it imports), to being shut out of World Cup soccer, and to the severing of air ties and diplomatic links. In this showdown between Iran and the free world, there is no doubt where the balance of power lies, if the West's will is brought to bear.
Europe, obviously, will not lead such a move. So Bush must lead it, and in such a way that a sanctions "process" does not get bogged down over years, becoming a cover for further Iranian defiance and trickery. At stake is not "just" the Iraqi struggle for freedom, but whether the world becomes safer for the terrorists, or for the rest of us.
- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11